Posted to Jane's Defense & Security Intelligence & Analysis Website (Sep 27): Mujahideen of the Sulu Sea - the Philippines' Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG)
The most prominent Philippine militant Islamist group is Al-Harakat al-Islamiyya, or the Islamic Movement - more commonly referred to as the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), or Father of the Sword.
In this vein, the group's decapitation of its victims, from security force personnel to Christian missionary workers, has almost become a signature of the ASG. The act of decaptitation serves to not only underline the group's commitment to its fundamentalist ideology but also to send a message to the government and the local populations in its areas of operation. In a report released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines' (AFP) Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations in 2002 - entitled Knowing the Terrorists: The Abu Sayyaf Study - the military claims that the ASG uses "brutal acts… as a means to show they mean business, and [to] create and instil fear".
While the ASG initially rose to public prominence with a series of high-profile kidnappings throughout the 1990s, it has subsequently become better known for a series of urban explosive device attacks - most notably the SuperFerry 14 bombing in the capital Manila in February 2004 that left more than 100 dead - along with a continuing steady tempo of guerrilla operations throughout the Sulu Archipelago, the southwest island provinces of the Philippines. The group is also noted for its past links to regional militant Islamist groups, specifically Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Al-Qaeda-linked personnel.
The ASG's activities have seen it designated as a foreign terrorist organisation by the United States Department of State and listed as a terrorist organisation by the United Nations, European Union and United Kingdom among others.